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Top judges blame legal aid cuts for surge in unrepresented claims

May 20 2014

The country’s top judges have blamed a rise in unrepresented claimants and additional litigation fees on cuts in legal aid.

Writing to MP’s, the Judicial Executive Board has implied that the Ministry of Justice’s policies aiming to reduce the legal aid bill may have been counter-productive.

An article by The Daily Telegraph has revealed that the letter has been received by the Commons justice select committee which is looking into the effect of changes to reducing the legal aid bill.

The committee has published online the written submissions that it has received.

It revealed that one of the worst effects of the cuts has been security in courts.

“Litigants in person sometimes come to court with a group of friends and/or family for support and tensions can run high between rival camps in the waiting area,” the judges said.

“Very occasionally there are significant outbreaks of violence. The smaller courts (typically the county courts) are not equipped to deal with such incidents and there is the potential for significant harm to judges, court staff and members of the public alike.”

Other key findings include a large increase in the number of cases where one or both parties do not have legal representation – most prominently in private law family litigation.

Where individuals have represented themselves, there has been an adverse impact on courts’ administration and efficiency.

“The apparent saving of cost by a reduction in the legal aid budget needs to be viewed in context: often it simply leads to increased cost elsewhere in the court system as, for example, anecdotally, cases take longer,” added the judges.

“The judiciary’s perception is that cases which may never have been brought or been compromised at an early stage are now often fully contested, requiring significantly more judicial involvement and causing consequential delays across the civil, family and tribunals justice systems.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world at around £2 billion every year.

“We have therefore had to face up to tough choices in reforming legal aid. We are closely monitoring the impact of these changes.

“Latest figures show family court performance is being maintained, with the average time taken to complete cases remaining steady since April 2013.

“We have listened closely to any concerns raised and committed to reviewing certain aspects of the scheme in response.”